From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Tue Feb 20 2007 - 19:14:53 EST
I raised this issue because I'm currently interested in an extremely narrow question. Given the mathematical definition of labour-value employed by linear production theory, what are those numbers supposed to represent? A common interpretation of the mathematics is that labour-values represent the "total direct and indirect labour" required to produce unit commodities. The process of replacement of unit commodities "from scratch" extends infinitely backwards in time. We imagine production beginning in the infinite past, with labour alone, that eventually terminates in the current period with output of unit commodities. Clearly, this is an entirely hypothetical interpretation, the unreality of which prompts critiques by Bose (and Keen drawing on Bose). However, there are interpretations of field properties in physics that are similar in nature. For example, when considering the potential energy of a point in a field, a common reference point of zero potential is defined as a point an infinite distance away from the charge producing the field. Then the potential at the point is defined as the work required to move one coulomb of charge from infinity to that point. Clearly, one coulomb of charge is never moved through an infinite distance. But that does not imply that the potential energy at a point is not materially efficacious. I am beginning to think in such terms: the technology matrix in linear production theory defines a discrete, finite field. Labour values are instantaneous properties of that field. They function as attractors for prices (at least in the case of simple commodity production). So there is ex ante determination of value. Under some stringent assumptions, such as no technical change, market prices always lag the labour values. There are other interpretations of labour values, such as employment multipliers, so the "dated" or "replacement" interpretation is not the only way of viewing the numbers. Although I haven't followed this up, and I'm sure others on the list know more about this, it seems that labour values can also be given marginal interpretations. Any thoughts appreciated.
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